Saturday, April 2, 2011

Translation: The thorn and the countryside

The thorn and the countryside

By Luis Sexto

Juventud Rebelde, March 31, 2011

Translation: Marce Cameron

The post brought this correspondent the following thorn: "Why don't you and the other journalists, together with the other office workers, go and work in the countryside?" I could respond rudely. But we might understand the reader perhaps thinking that the agricultural insufficiency of the country could be resolved by turning everybody into agriculturalists.

My irate correspondent does not realise that for some years we left behind, for weeks and months at a time, our offices and our writing, even factories, and the problem continued unresolved. With regard to journalism, society also needs the press and culture, and the offices, in order to function and develop harmoniously. Of course, if the unproductive abounds rather than the productive then a harmful imbalance is established. Admitting this, this commentator would reformulate the injunction he received in the following way: Why do certain inhabitants of the countryside not work in agriculture? A survey at the beginning of the 1990s revealed that in agricultural municipalities only one percent worked in agriculture.

From these questions and this data we may begin to think more probingly about the causes of the low level of utilisation of our farmlands. It seems to me that the phobia towards the countryside has been a constant in Cuban history. We can't attribute this evil to the Revolution, which must pay for the sins of so many other people's mistaken ideas and above all for the propaganda of the enemies of socialism. Certainly, we revolutionaries are partly responsible for having emphasised the concentration and centralisation of the land. But for centuries a curse was cast over the countryside. The landowners — both in the colony and the neocolony — never worked the latifundia that they allegedly owned legitimately: they exploited and abused the slaves and the peasants.

Usually, the land was not even seen as an attractive landscape. For a long time we preferred days at the beach to days in the countryside for our holidays. We looked more to the horizon of the sea than to the blue mist of the plains or the mountains. Add in as well the fact that work was the most pressing demand of the rural population according to a survey of the Catholic University Association in 1957. And so the lack of employment opportunities obliged a migration to the cities. The motives were various. Many headed for the capital to avoid the destiny of agricultural labour, or to seek a better life. Then there were also other reasons: what doctors were there, what schools were there in a remote little village or in a poor hamlet ... so for all these reasons, it seems to me, the countryside has dragged a hereditary solavaya [Cuban slang: "Good riddance!"].

Traditionally, we've aspired to become university graduates. One of the writers who best studied our national character, Jorge Manach, wrote in 1930 that among Cubans, regardless of a family's economic circumstances, the "desire to be a professional" predominates; parents, even the poorest, want their children to be "doctors". In my own family, my mother entertained us as children with this dream. In the end, rural life offered very little.

Part of the solution to this conflict is rooted, then, in us accepting that Cuba is essentially an agricultural country, and that the farmer has to be treated as the most important worker in the country, because the food security of the population depends on the farmers, as does the elimination of imports which drain the treasury and add to our shame. "Caramba, look how we import fruits, vegetables, grains", one of these peasants could say; but there are not so many, evidently, that make the land produce, loving it as the root of creation.

So we'll have to begin to consider the agricultural worker — be they a peasant farmer, a cooperative member, a wage earner or the beneficiary of Decree Law 259 [promoting the leasing of idle agricultural lands belonging to the state rent-free on a long-term basis] — as the basic worker in the Cuban economy. And for this, we'll have to link his life to what he cultivates, promoting his well-being and his growing autonomy, that is, the capacity to decide what to do and how to do it, though guided by the national interests. What's more, he'll have to be paid on time, and justly, for what he produces, which must be distributed effectively. Respect generates respect.

Do we perhaps disregard the fact that agriculture cannot be a terrain of bureaucracy but a climate of confidence, safe from paperwork that holds back the necessity and the desire to work? If we ignore this, the countryside may continue to suffer from the "Oh, for the streetscapes of Havana" syndrome.

1 comment:

  1. The population of Cuba is aging, and farming is arduous physical labor. The children of farmers do not want to farm, and I fear that many of those who apply for land in the face of present shortages will find it much more difficult than their fantasies presented. There is likely to be a high turn-over of farmers as the economy recovers.A necessary step for sustaining agriculture is the humanization of farm work.
    This includes the design of tools and also the integration of intellectual work with the physical labor (flexibility for decision making, the work of planning, scientific knowledge, a diversity of land uses on the farm with a diversity of tasks.)It is especially important to make ecological farming less arduous. The Cuban farmer is too educated to aspire to a life of halando machete all day long.I write as an ex-farmer from the mountains of Puerto Rico as well as an ecologist with long-term collaboration with Cuban agriculture.


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